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I understood that we weren’t special ever since I came to this place. There are about twenty of us in this clear box. However, there are dozens of clear boxes in this place. Blue birds are in one. A pretty bird with vibrant feathers is in another one, and these furry animals with large ears are in another. The Keepers, these fleshy animals that walk on two legs, come in to ogle us, and they normally leave with one of the animals in a gold or silver cage. My favorites are the little Keepers. They come in to look at us with smiles on their faces. No little Keeper will ever want me though. I have a disfigured wing and I never sing.
“What are you doing?” one of the other canaries asks.
“Just looking at the Keepers,” I answer. “A little Keeper just left with one of those noisy, furry things with floppy ears.” I look over at the canary next to me. He’s beautiful with sleek feathers that seem to be made of sunshine, and most of all, he doesn’t have a twisted wing like I do. His singing voice sounds like tiny bells ringing. My singing voice is just adequate. I never use it so I’m out of practice. I feel small compared to these other perfect canaries. However, I know that they’re not special, for as soon as they are gone, another canary will come in to replace them.
“Why do you like to look at them?” the bird next to me inquires.
“I just like to imagine what it would be like to be with them,” I tell him. “I like to imagine that I am the thing that makes them smile as they walk out of here.”
“Oh.” The bird looks at me curiously before flying away to sing with the other birds that have the same wings of sunshine and the same voices that tinkle like bells. Right at that instant, a hunched Keeper covered in black treads inside. Once he sees our clear box, he fetches the uniformed Keeper to open it.
“Which one do you want?” the uniformed Keeper asks him.
“I’ll take the messed up one. No sense in wasting a good, fit bird,” the black Keeper replies. Then he coughs, a hacking, loose cough that makes me flinch. “Excuse me,” he says.
“I’ll go get you a cage,” the uniformed Keeper says and runs off. The Keeper lifts a finger and points at me.
“So you’re our unfortunate bird.” I just stare at him, my head cocked to the side. I’m having mixed feelings. I feel happy that a Keeper is finally taking me away from this place of clear boxes, but I’m slightly scared of this Keeper covered in black. The uniformed Keeper comes back and settles me into a golden cage. She hands me to the Keeper, and he pays her. Once the black Keeper heads for the door, I wait for that smile that Keepers have once they walk out of the building.
He doesn’t smile. Once I am out, I look at the sky. I could see it from the clear box, but I never really understood how vast it is.
“Maybe this is why birds have wings,” I think to myself. “So we can fly and touch the sky.” Suddenly, I’m overwhelmed with this need, this desire to get out of my gilded cage and touch the sky. “I don’t think I can fly though.” I frown at my mangled wing.
“Alright bird, let’s go,” the Keeper says, opening an old, metal thing. I’m put on a soft cushion and a gray strap is put around my cage. He shuts the door, and like his cough, the sound makes me flinch. I look around the inside of the metal thing. There are two cushions, one of them covered in the same black stuff the Keeper has on him. In the front, there are mirrors, buttons, and a round, black thing.
“I wonder what this stuff is used for,” I think. Then, the door on the other side of the metal thing opens, and the black Keeper plops into his seat. Once he pulls a stick and presses a pedal, the metal thing starts to rumble and move. Soon, we are roaring down this flat, black strip.
“You need a name, birdy,” the Keeper tells me. He crinkles his eyebrows and puts his black finger on his face. After some time pondering, he speaks.
“Ah ha!” he exclaims. “Your name is Clementine.” I’m surprised he could tell that I’m a female. “You know? Like the song? It’s perfect for you; we’re even going to a mine. It’s a shame that a pretty thing like you has to go. Even your messed up wing is real pretty. Perfect was never really my thing. You have to find beauty in them imperfections too.” I smile at the black Keeper. Now I know that I’m happy to be with him. He starts singing a song for me. “In a cavern, in a canyon, excavating for a mine, dwelt a miner, 49er and his daughter Clementine. Oh my darling, oh my darling, oh my darling Clementine!” he croons in his scratchy voice. “You are lost and gone forever. Dreadful sorry, Clementine.” I chirp in applause.
“Wonderful!” I cheer.
“You like it, Clementine? At least someone likes my singing,” he responds. We just sit there in comfortable silence for the rest of the time, he in his black seat and me in my gilded cage. The Keeper pulls into a dirt lot full of other metal things. “We’re here, Clementine,” he tells me. “Time for us to go to work.” I chirp happily. I finally have someone who might make me feel special. He gets both of us out, and we walk a ways to the mouth of a tunnel surrounded by rocks. The Keeper sets me down on a rock and then saunters away.
“Wait!” I screech. “Come back!” He doesn’t listen to me though. I look around and suddenly I feel very unsafe. There are other Keepers like my Keeper around. They’re hunched and covered in the same black stuff. Their eyes are hollow though. They pay no attention to me as they amble past. The scariest thing is the tunnel in front of me. Everything’s pitch-black in there. The darkness seems to reach out to me, evil tendrils trying to grasp me and pull me into the depths. “Help!” I cry. “Get me out of this place! I don’t like the hollow-eyed Keepers! I don’t like the tunnel!” No one listens to me though. I feel like I’m back in the clear box. I’m not special anymore. The only thing is that, in the clear box, I had twenty other canaries with me. Now I’m all alone.
I thought I could be special. Even though my name was brought home on the wings of a flea, I hoped that someday it might take an eagle to carry it. Now, Keepers are filing out of the tunnel one by one getting well away from the sinister mouth. All of a sudden, I hear a buzzing noise, and I chirp, confused. Then, there’s a loud explosion that could crack the sky. Dust and chips of rock fly out of the tunnel, and I panic. The darkness is reaching for me. I chirp frantically, and after a while, the dust settles.
“Get me out of my gilded cage!” I scream. “I want to fly away and touch the sky!” I’m breathing hard and my head is swimming. Then, my Keeper comes back and looks through my cage at me.
“Are you okay, Clementine?” he asks me. I stop. My Keeper didn’t abandon me. He just left for a short time.
“There you go, Clementine. You’re okay,” he tells me, a smile on his face.
“You named the bird, Jim?” one of the hollow-eyed Keepers asks.
“Well yeah, Burt, it’s only appropriate,” my Jim answers.
“Okay,” Burt chuckles and walks away. I chirp angrily.
“Pay no mind to him, Clementine. He just doesn’t see the value of a name,” Jim says. I chirp softly. I’m chirping a lot more than usual now. I stare at Jim, who gave value to my life. Now it will take an eagle to carry my name.
“Take in the canary, Jim!” a Keeper shouts.
“Okay,” Jim sighs. “Here goes, Clementine. Time for you to drown.” Drown? What does he mean? He picks up my cage and heads towards the darkness of the tunnel. I start to chirp feverishly. “It’s okay, Clementine. I’ll sing for you. You’d like that, won’t you?” Jim starts to sing, and I start to believe that, as long as I hear his voice, I’ll be fine. I won’t be lost to the darkness because I’ll always be found by Jim. Isn’t that nice? To never be lost, always found.
“Sure,” I chirp in response.
“Ruby lips above the water blowing bubbles soft and fine, but alas, I was no swimmer so I lost my Clementine. Oh my darling, oh my darling, oh my darling Clementine!” Jim sings in his scratchy voice. “You are lost and gone forever. Dreadful sorry, Clementine.”
I start to go to sleep for some reason. I close my eyes and dream of the sky. I’m finally out of my gilded cage, and I’m soaring, my mangled wing finally fixed. I keep soaring high into the sky trying to touch it. I’m free! I’m free of the darkness, and now I know that there can be only light. I relish the feel of the wind under my wings and the warmth of the sun on my feathers. Even though I know I have Jim to go back to, I never wake up for him. So Jim was right. I drown, I drown in my dreams.